The Green Party of Pennsylvania calls for an end to politics as usual and passage of a fair and equitable state budget. We need a progressive budget that does not come at the expense of poor and working people. We need a budget that does not rely on sin taxes such as alcohol, tobacco and gambling. We need and deserve a serious budget.
All across the commonwealth, county governments have had to defer millions of dollars to meet social service needs. Nonprofit agencies that provide food for the elderly and the disabled, shelter for the homeless and victims of domestic violence have been some of the hardest hit denying assistance to some of our neediest citizens. Schools struggle to provide their services and threaten to close their doors. The irony is that one of the goals of the Wolf budget is property tax relief and increased state funding of schools.
Unfortunately, each day the state budget stalemate brings worse news. On Tuesday, the Scranton Times-Tribune reported the Scranton School District may be unable to pay $31.2 million in loans due by the end of the year. The school district and more than 50 others across the state had their credit ratings withdrawn by Standard & Poor’s due to the budget impasse. If the school district is able to borrow the money it will come with much higher interest rates and fees. On Wednesday, the Times-Tribune reported that the Scranton school directors are now considering raising taxes by 2.8 percent and borrowing millions of dollars to balance the 2016 budget.
The Luzerne County Library System has eliminated delivery services between 17 public libraries. Others within the system have reduced hours.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports, in the General Assembly, the House State Government Committee works on reforms to pension benefits for Pennsylvania state government and public school employees. One amendment would allow lawmakers to keep their existing pension benefit while the benefit for new hires would receive a mandatory 401(k) plus half the traditional pension benefit.
This is the problem. The General Assembly takes care of itself first. This is not public service, it is self-service. They stashed operating budget surpluses instead of returning them to the General Fund resulting in over $150 million to weather this recent stalemate.
Secondly, they help their powerful friends like The Marcellus Shale Coalition. An amendment to the Fiscal Code bill was passed by the Senate. It would curtail environmental regulation of the oil and gas industry and transfer $12 million from the Alternative Energy Investment Act funds to the newly created Natural Gas Infrastructure Development Fund. HB 1327, the fiscal code, is now under consideration by the House of Representatives.
The budget impasse goes on because the General Assembly does not concern itself with the plight of constituents. They are not concerned because they do not have to answer to them. They have secured their positions of power through partisan redistricting.
This underscores the need for independent redistricting and fair ballot access. There are currently two pieces of legislation in the General Assembly that could rectify this situation. The Voter’s Choice Act SB 495 has been introduced by Sen. Mike Folmer of Lebanon County. Senator Folmer is chair of the State Government Committee.
In July of this year, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel ruled that Pennsylvania’s election code is “unconstitutional” in its treatment of third party candidates. Implementation of the Voter’s Choice Act would address the issues raised in the case of Constitution Party of Pennsylvania vs. Cortes, of which the Green Party of Pennsylvania is a plaintiff, but, the bill sits in committee and Gov. Wolf has appealed the judge’s decision.
A second piece of legislation sits in the State Government Committee. SB 484 was introduced by Senator Lisa Boscola and eight cosponsors. This legislation would provide for an independent group to conduct redistricting, but requires a constitutional amendment to do so.
Jay Sweeney is chair of the Green Party of Pennsylvania. He lives in Wyoming County.
York Daily Record
By Jay Sweeney
December 17, 2015